Halloween is within reach. Thanksgiving has not yet wholly entered consumer consciousness. Yet the local department stores are already loading their parking lots with storage containers and building displays featuring Santa and snowmen. It is only a matter of time before we are overcome by the jaunty tunes of “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and other tunes.
But no matter how much one might enjoy what we so affectionately refer to as “The Holidays,” this time of year also brings added financial stress for most Americans.
For many, the key to avoiding holiday headaches is to ignore the problem until it is unavoidable. But the opposite is a far better tactic. Here are four ways to tackle holiday finances without breaking the bank.
- Make a list. Check it twice. Who usually receives a gift from you? Is there anyone new this year? Once you have every one written down, create a tiered system. Don’t act like it doesn’t already exist. You don’t honestly spend the same amount on your second cousin as you do your mom. (Maybe you spend more. It’s not MY list. It’s yours.) Be sure to add a couple miscellaneous on the list. That is unless you are the magical person who has never experienced the guilt of not having a gift to give a person who unexpectedly purchased you something.
- Set a budget. Now you know who you are preparing gifts for and how many gifts you need. Now is the time to review your monthly budget versus income to determine how much you can afford to spend. While this is best done earlier in the year, few people are purchasing gifts for the following holiday season in January or February. That will be you next year, right? In the meantime, use that final number to set a per-person budget. If you have a tiered system, allocate accordingly. (People in my bottom tier get baked goods. But no one complains because I am giving the gift of time…and molasses cookies.)
- Determine gift options. It’s the thought that counts, right? Take some time to brainstorm possible budget-friendly presents that would fit each person on your list. Jot those ideas down next to each name.
- Shop smarter, not harder. Do you drive to stores and painstakingly view every possible purchase and sale? Me, either. Online shopping research is the best way to find what you are looking for at prices you can afford. You can even determine if you will find the best price in the store. The point is to figure out what you will buy (or make), where you will buy it (or get the materials), and at what price. Then write it down. Use smart shopping tools like:
- wikibuy – Automatically find lower prices at other stores. This app and Chrome extension will also test a range of coupons and discount codes at checkout for anything you purchase at online stores.
- Honey – Like wikibuy, this app and Chrome extension automatically applies coupon and discount codes within online store checkout.
- com – This app and Chrome extension has similar functionality to Honey. It also rewards consumers for sharing coupon codes to expand the available knowledge-base.
No matter who you are or how many people are on your list, gift-giving does not have to break the bank. Following these four steps can help you create a realistic picture of your budget and help you avoid the financial stress of the upcoming season.